Rite of Passage

BY JOCELYN KWONG

I believe that a strong leader doubles as a representative of their organization or community: their skills, talent, and personality are all reflections of how a community behaves and reacts. Volunteering and involvement in Richmond is a rite of passage for us, and the city acknowledges that by providing countless opportunities for us to grow, to be inspired, and to inspire others.

The first volunteer position that I applied for was with the local Public Library. They host reading programs in both French and English that pair older students with younger students to help improve the latter’s language skills. It’s taught me that language barriers can’t hinder learning and mentorship because it is also our multiculturalism that defines us.

As I grew older, I became more and more involved within the community, and I realized I had become a leader. One organization I was involved with was S.U.C.C.E.S.S.’s Youth Leadership Millennium program. This program featured workshops and other activities, such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Toastmasters. The remarkable thing about the program is in the name itself – participants return to it to help mentor and LEAD new participants.

On some occasions, I become involved with an organization as a direct result of my personal experiences. After my grandpa passed away due to a lack of First Aid, I volunteered for several years as a Heart and Stroke Foundation Canvasser, which helped fortify my sentiments towards health education. I also work as a volunteer Red Cross First Responder in our city and with my high school.  I believe that if more of our population were educated on basic emergency and sanitary protocols, many lives could be saved.

Saving lives seems like such a grand, noble act, but I think that small acts, like encouraging the arts, are noble as well – in a different sense, of course. Having played piano at a young age, I thought that was all I’d ever play, until I reached high school and was introduced to Jazz by a senior student. This student is still one of my biggest role models, despite her not knowing that she inspired me to lead the Jazz Ensemble after her graduation. I’ve become a strong advocate for Fine Arts because I believe that it not only boosts one’s self esteem through performance, but it creates – in musicians, especially – a sense of belonging.

Another one of my interests is environmental sustainability. I am currently part of our city’s youth group, Green Friends, and was also the captain of my school’s Green Team. Environmental sustainability is everybody’s responsibility, just as social responsibility is. One of the recent green initiatives Green Friends hosted was the “Richmond Vs. Aliens Invasive Species Removal.” We managed to recruit more than 200 youth around the city to help remove invasive plants at local parks, all the while promoting green behavior through media regarding how to better conserve our parks.

Because of all the different groups and opportunities I’ve come upon, I’ve become a strong advocate for community relations and involvement, cultural and academic education, and self-development. I can say that Richmond is not only an “Island City, by Nature”; it is all that and more. It is arts, music, equality, innovation, and opportunities. Giving back to our hometown through volunteering is a way for us to make our mark, to create in Richmond a legacy of mentorship and unlimited opportunities. My community has shaped me to be a leader, and I can only hope that I have helped shape our community’s leaders in the making.